Stories the Rivers Tell

Sharing dinner with a friend, he tells me, “In India we don’t speak words. We speak metaphors. Our language is poetry.”

And it makes sense because so much of the language, both of words and inanimate things feels more like poetry than anything else.

Rivers, for instance, something I’ve been thinking about lately. The Brahmaputra, son of Brahma, wends through Guwahati, into Bangladesh and finally to the sea. Like Ma Ganges, he’s a sacred river and along his banks are shrines to Shiva, Ganesh, Hanuman, Krishna.

And, of course, Mother Ganges, herself, that ancient river that cleanses the soul and calls men and women to die on her shores.

When the Ganges and Brahmaputra merge, they become the Padma River–mother and son together lose their identify. A million stories can be created from that image.

Recently, I met a woman who has one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever heard of. She studies rivers to learn their stories. Sometimes it’s for a fishery. Or maybe a construction project that is thinking of putting a parking lot on a flood plain.

So she watches the way they bend, what they carry in their waters, the speed and strength of their currents. Hundreds of years of stories just waiting to be uncovered.

I have great memories of rivers. Swinging on vines over the Tuscarawas as a child in Ohio. Riding a wooden boat down the Mekong. The old man I used to watch practicing Tai Chi along the banks of the Nandu on Hainan Island.

And now the Brahmaputra.

The Ganges.

Stories of water and currents.

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3 thoughts on “Stories the Rivers Tell

  1. I found this post fascinating. I love rivers, and have enjoyed watching them. But I can’t say I’ve really studied them. On the other hand, I have studied languages quite a bit, and done some translation too. And languages can be so different. How interesting that the language spoken in India is like poetry (I believe there are a number of languages there). But I can believe it. It is not just people that speak in different languages… the languages speak for themselves too.

    • Studying rivers was a new idea for me too. I also love rivers–water, in fact. I used to think I needed to live near an ocean, but in some ways I think rivers are more accessible. Oceans are so vast and mysterious they can be overwhelming. Thanks for your thoughts!

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